Brad Hawpe wasn’t the only former Colorado Rockies’ slugger to find a new team over the holiday weekend. For the second consecutive winter, Garrett Atkins will attempt to re-establish himself with a perennial cellar-dweller. The Baltimore phase of his mission went stunningly poor, so his new (minor league) deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates couldn’t possibly go any worse, could it?
Oftentimes, baseball can be appropriately described as weird. Atkins’ case is no different. The (now) 31-year-old averaged a home run every 27 plate appearances from the beginning of the 2006 season until the final pitch of the 2008 season. Atkins has averaged one homer per 55 plate appearances in the baseball played since. An overall decline in production (from .305/.369/.498 to .223/.299/.326) accompanies the declining appearances of Atkins’ home run swing.
Teams used to pay Atkins to hit homers and reach base, now they pay to see if what malfunctioned. The Orioles bailed after a little more than 150 plate appearances; exposing Atkins to waivers in late June. No team bit and the Orioles chose to bite the proverbial money bullet and release him. That was the week of Independence Day. Atkins hasn’t seen time in a game sanctioned by Major League Baseball since.
In a perfect world, Atkins rediscovers his power stroke (his ISO has declined four straight seasons) and makes the Pirates’ 25-man roster. He’s a righty who started daily, so it stands to reason that the more pronounced his platoon split the worst his season. As such, it surprises no one that Atkins’ biggest platoon differentials came over the last few seasons. Still, with Lyle Overbay (a lefty with recent struggles against same-handed pitchers) around, Atkins could find some playing time if he does make the roster. Becoming the right-handed portion of a first base platoon is not a side task on the road to the city of riches, but it is a way to stay in the game.
The jokes about the franchise and the predicament of the player (almost out of options) are predictable. It’s obvious how a contract like Atkins’ differs from some of the more criminal in recent Pittsburgh history. The previous regime gave Jeromy Burnitz (age: 37) $6 million. Since it’s football playoff scenario season, consider the following actions that Atkins would have to take in order to ensure a disaster equal to the Burnitz’s signing: A) kneecapping Pedro Alvarez; B) kidnapping Andrew McCutchen; C) photographing (then publishing) Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia doing keg stands. One of those might happen if Atkins gets catty, two if he becomes severely distraught, but all three? Unlikely.
Also unlikely is Atkins recapturing his previous success. A small risk to take to gain first-hand knowledge nonetheless.